NBC's decision to release the entire season of new Charles Manson drama "Aquarius" was a bold move toward broadcast networks offering viewers the same binge-watching experience offered by streaming video companies such as Netflix and Amazon.
But alas, "Aquarius" won't be the show that will inspire such change. Business Insider spoke to several individuals, who asked to remain anonymous, about NBC's "Aquarius" experiment.
"This isn't a gamechanger," one individual from a rival network told BI. "That's not to say that someone else can do a similar kind of release and be more successful, but this wasn't it."
The drama's lackluster ratings and unclear revenue strategy has insiders at other major networks unimpressed and scratching their heads.
The ratings aren't convincing
NBC premiered the show last Thursday ahead of releasing the entire season to OK numbers. It earned a 1.05 rating in the advertiser-coveted 18-49-year-old audience and 5.7 million viewers.
When looking at the L+3 ratings, which include On Demand viewing but not online and streaming for the first three days, "Aquarius" increased by 35% in the 18-49 demo and added 1.5 million additional viewers. Again, good increases, but not necessarily impressive at these low numbers.
The next test would arrive in Week 2, after NBC released the entire 13-episode season.
Its second episode came up against tough competition from Thursday's NBA finals, plus it got the expected viewer erosion shows experience in the week after a premiere. It earned a 0.7 in the ad demo and just 3.9 million viewers.
It's hard to tell how much binge-watching cannibalized the live ratings with the NBA finals as part of the equation, but one insider believed that NBC wouldn't have done well anyway.
"The drop off was going to happen. It got more drop-off than say Fox," the individual said. Fox had actually placed second for ratings on Thursday night after ABC.
Another insider said, "There's no real way to know how ['Aquarius'] would've done."
Is NBC even making money?
Despite NBC's deal with a limited amount of advertisers for the show both on-air and in online/streaming, all of our insiders wondered how NBC was making any money.
"We still get most of our revenue from advertising, for better or for worse," one said. "I don't think NBC is making money."
The insider added, "I don't know what NBC knew, but my gut feeling was that 'Aquarius' was not a good show and NBC just wanted it out and over with. The binge-watching stunt gave a dog more attention than it would've gotten. So in that respect, NBC was successful."
Another insider said that NBC, which ended the 2014-2015 season as the highest-rated network, is in a position to experiment.
"NBC is trying different things," he said. "If it does well, then they'll take credit for it."
NBC didn't respond to BI's request for comment for this article, though the spokesperson did say the network doesn't plan on releasing "Aquarius'" streaming numbers (taking another page from the streaming companies which don't report their numbers).
Streaming will have its day
At any rate, our insiders agree that offering binge-watching isn't something the networks can ignore forever and will have to deal with at some point.
"I've spoken to some high level executives who say we'll all be Netflix in the future," the other network source said. "That day is still very far off."
NBC can still say it was the first to try it.
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